In June 2011 we started our holiday with a canal boat trip with Robert, from
Belgium into France. From Charleville-Mezieres in France, we then hired a car and
toured south of the Loire. For our last 2 weeks we stayed in a pretty cottage in
|Our first place in France, after crossing the Belgian border at our last
Belgian lock, was the village of
Givet. We arrived here on Friday 17th June. The village on the right bank was very depressed,
grey and dull, but the showers at the Capitainerie were the best so far!
|Barbara and I went shopping on tle left bank. This was
somewhat nicer then the right bank, but nothing to write home about! Soon
after leaving Givet we went through a lock followed immediately by a 500
metre tunnel. and one more manual lock. This was followed by 4 automatic
locks, and we learned how to operate these.We stopped at Wallerand, and
looked around a bit, but an enormous gale was blowing. We then moved
on, it started to pour down, and we had a terrible time getting through a
lock in the downpour, soaked to the skin. Later the sun came out
(first time today!), and we moored for the night of Saturday 18th June at Fumay. This is
an attractive village set on a hill, with a tall sandstone church
|Accident. Boat grounded in shallow water on rocks. Bikes
lost overboard. Propeller damaged. Slight taking on of water into the
hold. No proper mooring at Montherme or the place after, so we had
to tie to a wall, with no access to shore. This was Sunday 19th June.
|After 3 more locks we reached the "Port de
Pleasance" at Charleville. Barbara and Victor found a nice
restaurant in the main square, for lunch. We stayed at Charleville-Mezieres on
Monday and Tuesday.
|On Tuesday Rob went with Annalise to the train station. She was heading
for London on EuroStar, then flying to Kenya for her work. Barbara
and I spent all morning doing washing and clothes drying at the camping/capitainerie.
We discussed with Rob about leaving the boat at the repair yard, tomorrow,
4 locks further on from here.
|Raining yet again! We left Misty and Robert at the
Charleville harbour, had bread for breakfast on a park bench, then found a
hotel which kindly let us occupy the room very early in the day. Here we dried out
our soaking clothes.
|We picked up a Hertz car around 11 am on Thursday
23rd June, and drove into lush
green countryside. We stopped at a picnic table in a tiny village
called Guincourt, and had a picnic lunch, and explored the village and its
church cemetery. Later w stopped at Attigny, had coffee, and explored the
ancient arches dating back to 600 AD. We then reached Reims, and stayed in
a "Premiere Classe" hotel on the outskirts of the city. We
enjoyed Victor's 67th birthday dinner at the "Hippopotamus"
|We took a bus into town, walked around a bit, had a
picnic lunch in a lovely little park The sun was shining, our first
nice day since landing in Europe! We visited the Roman Forum or
"Cryptoportic" dating from 1st century AD, and a very
interesting tour onto the 40 metre high roof of Reims Cathedral. This
church is 800 years old this year, the foundation stone having been laid
in 1211. We stayed a second night at the "Premiere Classe" hotel, which is more
like a sort of plastic cubicle than a first class hotel!
a late start and shopping at a hypermarket, we drove to Epernay, the home
of Moet and Chandon and Dom Perrier champagnes. We explored the town, then
drove south to Sezanne. This is a very pretty and interesting village,
with medieval houses attached to
the ancient church on all sides in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. We then
continued to Nogent-sur-Seine, where we decided to stay overnight Sat 25th June, in a
hotel in the village centre. This is a pretty village, with a lovely
towpath along the river Seine, and heaps of history.
|Our first stop was at Sens.. We had lunch on a bench
beside thr River Yonne at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, watching a small yacht
race. Later in the afternoon, attempting to criss-cross along tiny
country roads, our route was blocked by a fire after a tractor accident,
so we had to back-track a long way. We stopped at an enchanting
small town called St Fargeau (pop 1900), and from the Office du Tourisme
we located a chambre d'hote in the "ferme du chateau". We liked
it so much we asked to stay 3 nights, from Sat 26th June to Tues 28th.! It is an ancient farm, which
shows tourists and groups of school children what life was like in the old
days on a working farm. We had donkeys, horses and cows outside our
window. The donkey was a real rascal, he tried to step onto the window ledge and come in to our
room! Once he actually managed to grab hold of our bedsheet and started to
drag it out of the window, but we stopped him just in time!
|In the morning we explored the town, with its ancient town
gate topped by a tower, its medieval houses, and an enormous chateau
dominating the town square.
In the afternoon we visited the
This was started in the early 13th century as a pentagonal
sandstone castle. In 1453 Joan of Arc's companion and soldier, Antoine de
Cabannes, bought the castle, and made it into a fortress with six
massive towers and an enormously thick coating of red bricks all around.
In the mid 1600's it was owned by King Louis 14th's cousin, "La
Grande Mademoiselle". Michael Peletier, a Minister of Finance, bought
the castle in 1715. His son was cauaght up in the French revolution, voted
for the death of KIng Louis 16th by guillotine, and was promptly murdered
by one of the King's old guards. Consequently he was proclaimed the first
martyr of the revolution, and his family managed to keep the castle, right
up to 1968.
|In the morning we we drove a short distance south to
"Le Lac de Bourdon" and walked along its shoreline, then drove
around it. It feeds water to the local canal system, and the water level
seemed fairly low to us. Then we visited a very small castle,
"Le Chateau de Ratilly" at Treigny. This is a very ancient
crumbling place, inhabited for the last 50 years by a family of potters,
represented today by the daughter.
In the afternoon we visted
Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses, where a series of 7 ancient locks were built in
1620! They are not in use today, they were replaced by a
"modern" series of six locks in 1887, 124 years ago! Then we
stopped at Bleneau to walk around a pleasant water park "Les Jardins
D'Eau de Bleneau".
|Our first stop on Wednesday was at a bridge over the upper reaches of the
river Loire, at Bonny-sur-Loire. We were shocked by the low water level.
At Neuvy-sur Barengeon, we lost much time and money after filling petrol
into what turned out to be a diesel fuel car! After that we used a
freeway for the first time, to make a bit of distance. We reached
Argenton-sur-Creuse, and stayed Wed 29th June in an old hotel right in the town centre.
It proved not to be a good choice, as the traffic noise under our window
was awful, and drinkers/smokers at the hotel's bar-cafe were sitting right
below our window talking very noisily! We didn't get much sleep.
|We took a walk around Argenton and up a hill to a chapel
with a huge gold-leaf clad statue of Notre Dame on top of its
steeple. We then wento into the Parc de la Brenne, at Sauzelles,
near Le Blanc, and took a delightful walk in the forest, beside a stream
and through cow pastures. The clean country air was such a relief
after the traffic and cigarette fumes at Argenton! We stopped in the town
centre of Lussac-Les-Chateaux, and obtained some adresses of chambres
d'hote, and we found one at Bouresse, at which we stayed 2 nights, 30th June and
1st July.. It is owned by an English family,
who were very welcoming. Victor enjoyed bacon and egg for breakfast 2 nights
running! In the evening we explored along the river Vienne,
and saw an intriguing chateau at Persac. This is uninhabited, but the
gardens are open, so we were able to walk around and take photos.
visited Montmorillon, a medieval town on the river Gartempe. They call it
Cite de l'Ecrit, and it is full of bookshops and art shops, all in ancient
medieval streets, cascading down the hillside to the river. Then we
moved on to saint Savin, with its enormous ancient abbey along the bank of
Gartempe river. We enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch at the Hotel de
Then we went a bit further North to the pretty village of Angles-sur
has impressive fort ruins along a high ridge, dominating the river valley
below. The bridge is pretty and there is a mill with a water wheel.
Our last stop for the day was at Chauvigney, where there is a real
castle, with a picture-book keep and "sleeping-Beauty" style
turrets on top. We returned to our Chambre d'Hote at Boresse, tired out but happy
after a packed
and interesting day.
|We drove west over slow but interesting country roads, and
reached the Atlantic coast at Fouras-Les-Bains, south of La Rochelle. We
found a charming Chambre d'Hote in an old but grand house dating back to
1891. It reminded me of the stately house of the Aristocats in Walt
Disney's cartoon. The ceilings are at least 14 feet high, ther are
chandeliers in many rooms, our bedroom is huge, with an adjoining bathroom
with bath, separate shower and handbasin, but no WC. We have to go across
a corridor for that privilege, and the plumbing in there possibly dates
back to 1890 as well! Our hosts were a charming couple, the monsieur,
Jean-Francois, was quite talkative, he wanted to impress us with his English,
having worked for a UK company some years ago! He inherited the house from
his parents and grandfather, who had to suffer German military officer
occupation during the war.
|This morning we walked all over the seashores of this
peninsula, Fouras is a traditional French seaside town, with no
"foreign" tourists except us! We saw the beaches at low
tide, the promenade cafes, and the town centre with its Sunday food
market. We then enjoyed a nice 3 course meal in the town centre. The
traffic was extremely congested in the afternoon, so we drove out of
Fouras to Rochefort. This seemed to us a decaying city, though steeped in
French naval history, and with an obviously thriving and gigantic yacht
the suggestion of our host, Jean-Francois, we took a ferry boat to Ile
D'Aix, a tiny island with no motor cars and lots of walking and cycling
tracks. We walked around the entire island, then ate a lazy lunch with a
bottle of cool rose wine,at a cafe in the little town centre.
Jean-Francois kindly drove us to the boat terminal, and picked us up at
5:30 on our return.
|We left Fouras and headed North, avoiding the coast because
of the French July holiday crowds. We drove via Niort, Parthenay,
Bressuire, Chemille, and reached the river Loire, and the province of
Anjou, at Challons. We found a chambre d'hote right beside the
Loire, and agreed to stay 4 nights, from Tuesday 5th July to Friday 8th July. Once again, the water level of
the river was at an all-time low. But only 5 years ago, it had seriously
flooded, into our hostess's garden and up to her door..
|On Wed 6th, we visited the chateau of Serrant, at St Georges-sur Loire. This is a very impressive castle, with a full moat all the way round
it. We took a guided tour inside the castle, however the
French-speaking guide refused to slow down his spiel, so we understood
In the afternoon we went to a small chateau with delightful
gardens, the "Chateau des pins", near Champtoce-sur Loire.
Here the château itself is not open to the public, but the gardens and
parklands are. We took a very long walk in the parklands, through thick
|On Thursday 7th we drove to Brissac-Quince and visited its chateau. This is
the tallest in France, 7 stories high. The two medieval towers were
constructed in about 1510, then the rest of the chateau was built in renaissance
style about 100 years later, partly destroying the insides of the two
towers. The dukes of Brissac have lived there continuously since
1510. We saw the medieval kitchens under the castle, the magnificent
stables, a classical Greek mausoleum, a vineyard in continuous wine
production for 500 years, and we took a long walk around a lake and
through woods. There was also an amazing tunnel with water flowing
through it, which was built several hundred years ago by a Duke of Brissac,
to divert the river water from flooding part of the town and the grounds
of the castle.
Later that afternoon we walked around the town of
Brissac, then visited another pretty village by the Loire, at Denee.
|On Friday 8th we
drove west along the Loire to St Florent. This is an attractive village,
with a 16th century abbey perched high on a cliff overlooking the Loire.
The views were impressive, but we imagined they would be truly beautiful
when the river is full of water!
|We drove north as quickly as possible to our gite in Brittany
at St Caradec. We arrived there at 2:30, on Staurday 9th July, and were delighted with the airy
and spacious accommodation, comfortable and modern inside, set into old
farm buildings. This will be our home for the next 2 weeks. We plan to use
it as a base for touring Brittany.
|Firstly, we used two washing machines to catch up on over 2
weeks of travelling without any laundry. Then we drove a short
distance west past Lake Guerledan to the abbey of Bon Repos. Here there
was a Sunday market in full swing. We bought a kilo of spinach from a
local grower proud of all his herbs and vegies, grown without chemicals,
all manual weeding! The abbey is an impressive ruin from the 12th
century. Then we walked beside a part of the lake, and passed some
very pretty villages, which we plan to visit in more depth later.
|On Monday 11th July, we started in fairly thick mist, and
drove to St
Malo. The weather cleared to brilliant warm sunshine, to reveal a
magnificent walled medieval city right by the sea. We walked on top of the
city ramparts all around the town, with fabulous views at every turn. We
then walked around inside the walls, and had a crepe lunch at a creperie.
Later we drove to St Lunaire, a seaside town west of St Malo, with
magnificent old mansion houses perched on the cliff top overlooking the
sea. Then we drove to Cap Frehel and Fort La Motte. The latter is a
magical castle perched on rocks overhanging the savage sea.
|After a lazy start, in cool cloudy weather, we explored the
village of St Caradec It has an unusual church, a pretty centre, and a
lovely lake surounded by green parkland. We had lunch at the only open
village restaurant. This was an education in itself! Popular with
locals, and very reasonably priced, entree in a help yourself buffet
style, a choice of veal or fish for the main, a cheese plate, a large
choice of deserts, wine and coffee all included for 10.5 euros. Then we
went for a long country walk in woods and along a cycleway path with no
cyclists, we only met one other person in 2 hours.
|On Wednesday 13th July, it
was well worth the long drive to Mont St Michel, which is just across the
border in Normandy's North coast. This is an amazing cathedral perched on top of a
pyramidical rock at the end of a causeway out to sea, which can be flooded at
|In France, quattorze Juillet is 14th July, now
called Republic Day, formerly "Bastille Day". We went to the
village of Guern searching for Breton dancers, but this was a
non-event. Then we went to Pontivy, which is an interesting town by river, with
ancient streets and houses from 16th and 17th centuries. We took a tour
guided by a pamphlet and numbrered plaquews on walls. At 6pm we saw
a procesion of dancers from 3 or 4 nations, including Bretons, along the
streets, followed by a stage performance in a town square.
|We went to Lac de Guerlegan, saw the barrage, and
villages near the lake. In the evening we went to Mur de Bretagne
and watched a performance of Breton dancing in costume, to the music of a
bagpiper and a bordon?
|Intermittent rain. We went to the villages of Hemonstoir
and Rohan, then to Jossylin. castle and town.
|Long trip (212 kms each way) west to Finistere, Cozon
Peninsula, Camaret-sur-Mer on the Atlantic coast.. Rained most of
day. We got soaked to the skin twice in sudden storms whilst walking only
short distances from the car.
|Weather dry but cloudy. Local wander round villages near St
Caradec. St Thelo, Le Quillio, which form part of the "Chemin
de lin" the linen route. In the 18th and 19th centuries, 35,000
people were employed in the textile trades in this region. Many
cloth merchants became rich and built impressive houses and funded
extensive churches. We had a very nice 4 course traditional French
"midi" lunch at St Gilles Vieux Marche.. We explred the village,
then drove to a hill with a magnificent view over the Breton countryside.
drove south-west to Hennebont, with an impressive city wall and gate
We then drove to Quiberon peninsula, and saw a busy French
family seaside resort in full swing despite cool and windy weather. This
peninsula is on the southern, warmer, side of Brittany, thought it still
is the Atlantic ocean. The sea was 15 degrees, the air 17 at most. We
enjoyed a nice 3 course lunch, with steak, at a restaurant with a full
view of the main beach at Quiberon.
En route back we stopped at St
Anne-Auray, where there is an enormous abbey (19th century) and numerous
shrines, amazing "Venice Rialto style" monuments, and huge
pilgrim reception facilities. St Anne is the Virgin Mary's mother, born in
Brittany, married for the second time in Palestine, and her daughter Mary
born there by Anne's Palestinian husband. Her grandson, Jesus, visited his
grandmother in Brittany. So enormous numbers of pilgrims flood here
to experience miracles facilitated by St Anne.
|We stayed in our gite all day Wednesday 20th July, reading books and internet
articles, as we were very tired, and it was raining practically all day.
|We stayed in the local St Caradec area on our last day at the cottage on
Thursday 21st, then on Friday 22nd we drove to Paris. We used the autoroute,
which was very fast and efficient, though rather expensive, until we encountered
terrible traffic jams around Paris on the Boulevarde Peripherique, and en route
to the airport.
|We stayed at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport ready for our morning
flight to KL on Saturday 23rd. After a day sojourn at a hotel inside KL airport,
we finally made it back home to Australia, arriving Monday 25th July.